Flypaper

Jason Gaulden

In reading Dale Chu’s recent Flypaper column entitled “The endangered, reform-oriented district chief,” I was struck by his post mortem concerning the era of strong school district leadership.

The analysis is spot on, I'd argue, with one major exception. He presented a solid list of reform superintendents, starting with Denver’s Tom Boasberg, who recently announced his departure, and listed his contemporaries who once served in other big cities, including “Joel Klein, Dwight Jones, Michelle Rhee, Terry Grier, Andres Alonso, and Mike Miles, among others.”

In referring to all of them in the past tense, Chu lamented: “Visionary superintendents in this mold are getting harder and harder to find. At a moment when states and districts arguably need braver leaders than ever before, why have they gone into hiding?”

My challenge is in the case of Mike Miles, former superintendent of Dallas Independent School District, whose systemic reforms were so effective they continue to benefit students and teachers long after he is gone.

But rather than putting his head down since leaving what Chu describes as the “hot seat,” he instead stuck his neck out. He went from high-impact district superintendent to brazen charter school entrepreneur with the experience,...

 
 

The Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the Democratic Party hasn’t won a lot of primaries this summer, but time may be on their side. (Well, Sanders himself will soon turn seventy-eight and may not want to wait…) So one can infer from an alarming survey of young Americans between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four undertaken a few months back by the University of Chicago’s GenForward project. As summarized by the Chicago Tribune’s inimitable Steve Chapman, “49 percent in this group hold a favorable opinion of capitalism—and 45 percent have a positive view of socialism. Socialism gets higher marks than capitalism from Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans. Sixty-one percent of Democrats take a positive view of socialism—and so do 25 percent of Republicans. (emphasis his)”

This peek into a possible sea change in the country’s economic future grows considerably more alarming when we pause to note what some energetic socialist writers are saying about America itself and about our fundamental political structure. Consider the stunning—no, appalling—column in the New York Times last week by two staffers from the socialist magazine Jacobin.

“[T]he subversion of democracy,” they wrote, citing Madison and Federalist No. 10 as exhibit A, “was...

 
 

Educators have rightfully complained for ages that the professional development (PD) that they typically receive in school districts is next to useless. And countless studies have shown that most forms of PD fail to help teachers improve.

A new meta-analysis by Brown University’s Matthew Kraft and colleagues tries to separate the empirical wheat from the chaff by examining the causal evidence (only) for one PD model that is very popular in schools: teacher coaching. They define coaching programs broadly as in-service PD where coaches or peers observe teachers’ instruction and provide feedback to help them improve. More specifically, coaching is an instructional expert working with teachers to discuss classroom practice in a way that is (a) individualized—coaching sessions are one-on-one; (b) intensive—coaches and teachers interact at least every two weeks; (c) sustained—teachers receive coaching over an extended period of time; (d) context specific—teachers are coached on their practices within the context of their own classroom; and (e) focused—coaches work with teachers to engage in deliberate practice of specific skills. They exclude teacher preparation and school-based teacher induction programs.

They identify sixty studies of teacher coaching programs, including fifty-five in the United States and five in Chile and Canada....

 
 

A new American Institutes for Research report takes an in-depth look at Texas’s dual-credit programs, which allow high school students to enroll in a college-level course and receive simultaneous academic credit from both their high school and a college. This is the second phase of a two-year study. The first phase was conducted by RAND, and is currently in the midst of a public comment period that the authors plan to use to shape “practical policy recommendations.” The analysis focuses primarily on “traditional” dual-credit education programs delivered by community colleges, which means that academic dual-credit courses are offered through regular high schools, not early-college high schools.

Texas is an ideal state to conduct such a study because its dual-credit landscape has grown dramatically. From 2000 to 2016, the number of high schoolers taking at least one dual-credit course rose from 18,524 to 204,286, an increase of more than 1,100 percent. There are two reasons for this growth: First, state legislation has made it easier for more students to participate. Second, colleges and universities have taken advantage of expanding access by promoting dual-credit as a strategy to improve college access and completion.

The phase-two report is a whopping five chapters,...

 
 
Stephanie Hirsh

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

There is no doubt that the quality of instructional materials makes a real difference in schools and classrooms (see a great roundup of recent studies in Ashley Berner’s recent blog post here). We know we are unlikely to achieve the real power of those materials—and their potential to help educators serve all students—until we invest in building the capacity of educators to understand and implement those materials with integrity.

Learning Forward’s recent whitepaper, High-quality curricula and team-based professional learning: A perfect partnership for equity, explores how team-based inquiry cycles offer teachers meaningful, frequent opportunities to dive deep into the academic content of the materials they use with students along with the resources and context essential to supporting such learning.

We have long advocated for job-embedded collaborative professional learning for educators, as outlined in the Standards for Professional Learning. Policy at the national level in the U.S. offers an exciting lever for advancing effective professional learning with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which includes a definition of professional learning aligned with these standards. The definition states that professional development is...

 
 
Bill Honig

Michael Petrilli recently wrote an essay titled “Where Education Reform Goes From Here,” which garnered responses from Sandy Kress and Peter Cunningham, among others. These pieces include much that’s worthy of support, emphasis, and further discussion, as well as a few areas of disagreement.

Based on their collective comments, I think there is a good chance for reconciliation and a working consensus between “reformers” and those of us who have had major problems with reform policies, implementation, and assumptions. There seems to be a common emphasis on the following approaches to improving student and school performance: 

  • The centrality of curriculum and instruction
  • High-quality materials
  • Building the processes schools and districts (or CMO’s) use for school improvement, such as improving the capacity at each school for continuous growth
  • Attracting higher caliber teachers, improved induction, career ladders, and leadership, and a continued attention to improving performance for all
  • Alternate pathways for high school graduation, including career and technical education
  • Increased funding
  • Striking a balance between school and local control and district and state expectations and support
  • Avoiding the harsher anti-public-school and anti-teacher rhetoric
  • Looking to both traditional public schools and charter schools for models of high performance

These ideas...

 
 

I’ve long had a complicated relationship with screen time for my young sons, but have come to see its benefits, especially if the focus is on quality over quantity. This has inspired me to publish lists of my favorite TV shows for young kids and for families; a compilation of educational videos; and a list of recommended apps. Now for the next frontier: YouTube. My ten-year-old LOVES “Geography Now!” and “Extra History,” from which he’s learned at least ten times more social studies than he has from Montgomery County Public Schools. It feels like a miracle that there’s such good content being produced, and makes me wonder what else we should be sampling.

To that end, I had our Fordham Institute research interns take a spin around the yonders of YouTube, and I asked for help from our readers. Many thanks to those of you who responded.

Please note that I’m leaving off the list the channels for the major PBS shows—not because they aren’t worthwhile, but because there’s plenty of ways to access them beyond YouTube. Still, to be sure, if you’ve got young kids, check out ...

 
 

You’ve probably heard by now that basketball superstar LeBron James opened a school for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Called I Promise School (IPS), it’s a joint effort between the I Promise Network, the LeBron James Family Foundation, and Akron Public Schools. The newly renovated building opened its doors on July 30 to 240 students in third and fourth grade, along with forty-three staff members. Though he’s taking his talents to Los Angeles, King James himself was on hand to dedicate the new school.

Just like students who are part of the I Promise Network that serves more than 1,300 children and their families across the district, IPS students were identified based on their reading achievement data. After identifying students who were a year or two behind grade level, administrators used a lottery to randomly select which children would be offered a spot at the new school. These students will receive free uniforms, transportation within two miles, tuition to the University of Akron when they graduate, a bicycle and helmet, and a variety of other resources. Their families will have access to GED classes, job placement assistance, and a food pantry.

James is being lavished with praise...

 
 
Barbara Davidson

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of visiting a group of schools across the country distinguished by their embrace of high-quality curriculum. The tour was sponsored by the Knowledge Matters Campaign, which seeks to lift up the stories of schools that use knowledge-rich English language arts curriculum to promote educational excellence, provide equity, and inspire in students a passion for learning.

The campaign is particularly interested in drawing attention to schools and curricula that bring a joyous, knowledge-filled schooling experience to students of poverty, as they have been the ones particularly harmed by a skills-based approach that is arguably one of the most significant factors in reading scores remaining flat over the past twenty years (see this article published by the Campaign last month), to say nothing of driving out a love of learning in our young people.

Most of the schools we visited on the tour had adopted a curriculum highly rated by EdReports, the independent non-profit organization that, for the past four years, has served as something of a Consumer Reports on Common Core-aligned curriculum. Three key instructional shifts:...

 
 

Her name is Alexandra. She was a student in a school where I used to work and she was one of those kids who challenges you, causes her share of trouble, and comes to appreciate and love you deeply when you’ve earned her trust. Oh, she steals your heart too.

To this day, a letter she wrote me on my birthday in 2012 sits in the drawer of my nightstand. It said a lot but most importantly, she wanted me to know how much it meant to her that I believed in her. And given her a chance. And helped her to see that she had the power to make different—and better choices—as a student and as a young woman.

I think of Alexandra often, especially when I watch debates about school discipline unfold on Twitter or Facebook or wherever else education pundits and partisans are sparring over Obama-era discipline guidance.

The problem child

Alexandra’s mother was not in her life. Her father, an immigrant from Nigeria, was struggling to raise her and her brother and while her brother shined in school and in life, as Alexandra told it, she was the problem child.

And in many ways,...

 
 

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